Marfin Plays Messiaen

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MESSIAEN: Vingt regards sur l’Enfant Jésus, Nos. I, XVI, XVII, XIII, XI. Catalogue d’oiseaux, Nos. VI, XIII, VIII, IX / Cassandre Marfin, pno / Soond SND21017

This CD features performances of two suites by Messiaen played by the young (b. 1993) Belgian pianist Cassandre Marfin. She has been playing the piano since the age of seven, studied at the Forest Academy in Brussels with Eugène Galand, and finished her training at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels with Eliane Reyes and Dominique Cornil.

Marfin is an artist whose musicality is far in advance of her years. This performance of the Vingt regards sur l’Enfant Jésus is nearly flawless in phrasing, touch, and musical style. She fully understands the meditative states that Messiaen was in when he composed his music, and translates these into sound. It is almost as if she had written the music herself. My sole complaint is that she only gives us five excerpts rather than the entire two-hour piece—possibly a constraint put upon her by the record label. Had she recorded the full suite, I would possibly prefer her interpretation to that of Martin Helmchen on Alpha, though Helmchen is very good in his own way. I just prefer Marfin’s strong contrasts between the soft and loud passages; she really gets a lot of sound out of her instrument on either end of the volume spectrum. She has a primarily lean piano tone, which works well in the rhythmic music, but can also elicit soft pastel shades from her instrument.

Since this is fairly well-known music, I don’t see a need to describe it. Those readers who know and appreciate Messiaen will know what I mean regarding Marfin’s performing skills. The sound quality is completely natural, with just enough space around the instrument to give it a nice sheen. An excellent album to introduce a first-rate artist.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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